Peter Jackson Interview, The Lovely BonesPosted by: Sheila Roberts
MoviesOnline sat down this weekend with Oscar winning director Peter Jackson to talk about his new film, “The Lovely Bones.” Jackson has a reputation for spellbinding storytelling on screen. He is best known for having written, directed and produced “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, creating an indelible screen life for the fantasy world forged by J.R.R. Tolkien.
“The Lovely Bones” is based on the beloved, best-selling novel by Alice Sebold and deals with the haunting aftermath of a crime that unfolds from the unexpected vantage point of the beyond. What begins as a shocking homicide unravels into a suspenseful and visually inventive journey through the bonds of memory, love and hope – towards a surprising and emotional reckoning.
The film centers on Susie Salmon, who was just 14 years old when she was murdered in December 1973 on her way home from school. Following her death, she continues to watch over her earthbound family while her killer remains at large. Trapped in a wondrous, yet mysterious hereafter, Susie finds she must choose between her desire for vengeance and her yearning to see her loved ones heal and move on.
Peter: I’ve done a lot of movies with contact lenses in actors’ eyes and they change the color of your eyes, but if there’s something that’s going on with the character’s eyes, it’s because of the performance. As a filmmaker, I like shooting extreme close-ups of some characters, occasionally. That is a technique that you use to really get inside somebody’s head. Stanley was playing a very dangerous and frightening character, and so getting close to his eyes was a way of increasing the menace that Stanley’s performance was giving back to us.
Q: Can you talk about taking the rape aspect out of the film?
Movies are such a powerful medium, with music, the effects, the acting, the performance, the editing, the lighting and the camera work, that to show a 14-year-old girl being murdered, in any way, no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie, and frankly it would make it a film that I wouldn’t want to watch. I would have no interest in seeing that depicted on film, and I would not want to see the film. Every movie that I make is a film that I want to see. That’s very important. I make movies that I know I would enjoy seeing in the cinema, and that would not be one of them. So, the movie that we did make, we wanted it to become something that was almost like a crime mystery of what happens when you’re in this world of the subconscious, the world of the afterlife.
Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her. There’s a positive aspect to it, in the sense that she’s immortal and saying there is no such thing as death. All of those aspects and themes were what interested us, and not the murder. I’ve shot some pretty extreme things, in my time, with Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead, and there’s a certain style and sense of humor that I believe you can do to get away with that. But, to do anything that depicted violence, especially towards a young person, in a way that was serious, was something I’d have no interest in filming, at all. It would be repulsive. So, there were a variety of reasons, but we felt very determined, from the beginning, that the film should be PG-13. That was important to us.
Q: What drew you to doing The Lovely Bones, after doing some of the most epic science fiction/fantasy films ever? Was it a challenge to get back to doing a really intimate story?
It’s a terrific book that affects you emotionally. The book doesn’t have a structure that immediately makes the film obvious in your mind. The book affects you on an emotional level, not on a story level. You delve into it and, as a filmmaker, you figure out a way in which you can tell the story on film, not necessarily the perfect way or the way that other people would do it. If you take 20 different filmmakers and give them any book, but especially The Lovely Bones, and you’ll have 20 completely different films, which is interesting. So, the idea of doing something that was a challenging new topic was absolutely of great interest to us.
In terms of the very end, what I like about what happens to Mr. Harvey is that it confirms, I think, a hope that we all have that even if the police or the legal authorities don’t ultimately do their work that there’s a form of natural justice that happens and that was very much the concept behind what happens to Mr. Harvey – that there’s an icicle that falls, that is just enough to throw him off balance which is just enough to have him slip down to his death and that’s a form of natural justice. It’s not a person doing it. We don’t think it’s a person. Did the icicle fall or was it pushed? I mean, who knows? That’s one of the interesting questions. But nonetheless, it confirms something that I think everybody hopes is that there is such a thing in the world as natural justice that also prevails.
A lot of the imagery we used and a lot of the metaphor – everything is a metaphor in a dream world. Everything means something else, but it’s not a literal thing. We used image systems that the audience are not supposed to obviously understand all of this, but as scriptwriters we put it into our screenplay and the overall impression that it creates hopefully gives the audience the idea of what is happening. People say that when you dream about a house, that a house really represents a person. This is when you analyze dreams. So, the house that she imagines that she sees in that empty field with the lighthouse sticking out of it, that house represents Mr. Harvey. She’s using the metaphor of the house to represent the killer.
As we said earlier, she flees from her own murder so she doesn’t know where her body is and the only person that does is Mr. Harvey. Mr. Harvey himself keeps a souvenir, the charm bracelet. He throws most of the charm bracelet away because of the evidence, but he rips off one charm which happens to be the house and that house is Susie using the same image system. He’s now keeping control of Susie. It’s her fear of Mr. Harvey that he still has over her that prevents her from leaving this world of the in-between. I mean, she’s trying to get to heaven but she’s stuck. The concept of her finding out the answers to these questions of where her body is, she has to confront the man who killed her. She does that symbolically by going through the door of that house and, in doing so, she enters his subconscious. I loved the idea that she goes in there, she sees his previous victims which are images that only he has in his mind, so now her subconscious is entering Harvey’s subconscious.
We use things like the blooming flower. That flower is really Susie and her life force and so it’s withered and it’s dead as far as her father sees this flower, but then it blooms in his hand when she’s trying to communicate with him and say that “I’m here, Dad.” He imagines in his mind’s eye that flower blooming. And then, when she opens the safe, which ultimately we reveal later that’s where her body actually is, but when Susie first opens the door to the safe, what does she see there but the blooming flower which again is supposed to be her and it’s the first clue as to where she is.
The gazebo was representing unfulfilled love because that first date that she was going to have with Ray, he said “Meet me in the shopping mall by the gazebo.” So that gazebo represents the date that she never had and she sees him in the distance in the in-between and she tries to run there and she can’t run because the ground turns to water and mush which is a very common dream image that we all have that we’re trying to get to a place and the ground is turning to syrup or glue and we can’t make it there.
Everything that we did in that in-between world, we’re working on the basis of subconscious and we’re not supposed to be particularly clear. It was designed as a way of working within the metaphor and the image system of dream because we liked the idea that in those sequences we were inside Susie’s subconscious and it wasn’t a physical place that we were showing.
We got to the point pretty much at the beginning of post production where we had to start to ask permission to use these tracks and we contacted Brian and explained what we were doing and could we use these couple of songs of his and he asked us about the film and he rushed out and grabbed the book to read it. He was curious. He said to us, have you got a composer to do the soundtrack? And we said no, not really. We didn’t think maybe we might not use one and then he said he would be really interested in doing it. If we wanted to go that way, he sort of volunteered, which was amazing to us. We never even thought to ask him because he’s done a couple of movies, but it’s not something that he really devotes much of his time to, and he’s very busy doing all sorts of amazing projects.
Brian was great to work with and an incredibly different experience because we’re used to working with composers who take a final edit of the movie and they compose the music to exactly the cut of the film that you give them, to the final actual seconds and frames it’s all perfectly lined up. Brian didn’t want to see the rough cut of the film. He didn’t want to read the script. He wanted to see conceptual art. He wanted to see imagery. He wanted to be inspired by the emotion. He wanted to see photographs of the set and then he started to compose and send us – and we were just communicating with him over iChat. We were in New Zealand. He was in the U.K. He started to send us these long pieces of music – beautiful, instrumental, emotional pieces which might be 7 or 8 minutes long and would have all sorts of interesting shapes to them. He said that we should edit these pieces of music as we saw fit and combine them and blend them and that’s how we worked. It was a completely different way to how we’ve ever worked with a composer before. But, for this particular movie, both the sound and the style of working really ended up suiting the film great.
What we do in the movie is that scene at the end with the field when Harvey’s victims come down to meet Susie, there’s a golden light there which is supposed to be ‘wide heaven’ as Susie calls it and as Alice Sebold called it. That’s a golden light which I showed deliberately in a clichéd recognizable way so that people get the idea that Heaven is there. That is indeed the goal which Susie has to get out of this weird trapped place that she is and to actually move on. That golden light represents where she and everyone else moves on to. The idea is that you can put whatever you choose into that golden light, and if you are religious, then obviously that’s what you put in there. If you’re not religious, you can imagine something else. And, if you don’t believe there’s anything there at all, then probably it’s not the movie you should go see, I guess. It’s a suspension of disbelief. It’s a story.
All religious things to one side which is a completely different topic, I personally think that there is some energy that we have inside us. I have experienced a couple of people that have been very close to me dying and I have been there and I’ve held their hand and there is a feeling when somebody passes on that they leave. There’s a sense of departure that’s very, very strong. It’s so strong that it has made me believe in the fact that there is a form of energy inside us that continues to survive after death. Science, physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed so it has to go somewhere. It doesn’t evaporate.
“The Lovely Bones” opens in theaters on December 11th.